In June 2010, Canada will host the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario. One of the most contentious issues will be climate change and a possible discussion on concrete targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The world’s eyes will be on Ottawa and its dismal track record when it comes to meaningful action on this global issue. A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund and Allianz SE ranked Canada last among G8 countries when it comes to measures taken aimed at addressing climate change. With steadily increasing emissions, it is doubtful the country will be able to meet its environmental obligations. A report released by the UN indicated that its total greenhouse gas emissions increased by 26 percent since 1990.
At the July 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila Italy, Prime Minister Steven Harper stated that “Canada recognizes the broad scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2˚C.” This statement, along with the federal government’s “Turning the Corner” action plan to combat climate change published in 2008, are welcomed steps, but do not go nearly as far as needed to prevent catastrophic changes in global temperature. The federal government’s reluctance to implement concrete measures to reduce GHG emissions put some of the world’s poorest countries at great risk, particularly on the African continent. Most of these countries rely heavily on the agricultural sector for their economic sustainability.
A change in global temperature will have a significant impact on this sector, threatening the livelihood of millions on the continent. British Charity organization, Oxfam, highlighted in a recent report that climate change has the potential to destroy Uganda’s fragile coffee industry, leaving many farmers destitute. The country is Africa’s second largest exporter of coffee, producing more than 2.85 million bags during the 2007/2008 season. The report points out that a rise in global temperature by 2˚C will effectively cease to make the East African country suitable for cocoa growing. Approximately 77 per cent of Ugandans rely on farming as their main source of income.
Meanwhile, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 75 to 250 million people in Africa are expected to be exposed to an increase of water stress by 2020 due to the effects of climate change. The report further highlights that in a number of countries; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020. This is detrimental to economic growth, given that approximately 95% of the continent’s agriculture is rain-fed.
If Canada does not do its part in addressing climate change, it will certainly contribute to the climate changed induced poverty in Africa. These factors act as a catalyst in the current food crisis, and exacerbate the continent’s existing problems. Despite Stephen Harper’s acknowledgement that, “the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed +2˚C”, the government’s current targets for cutting GHG emissions are insufficient to prevent this increase, according to the IPCC. The country’s emission targets are forecasted to be 3% below the 1990 level by 2020 and 51-64% below the 1990 level by 2050. In order to prevent +2˚C temperature change, Ottawa needs to cut its emissions by 25-40% below the 1990 level by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050.
But Canada faces some unique challenges in trying to reduce its GHG emissions. Among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members, it is one of the three net energy exporting countries. Large reserves of conventional and non-conventional oil and gas, coal, uranium and hydro make Canada one of the world’s largest producers of most types of energy. In recent years, as the price per barrel of oil skyrocketed, extracting oil sands became extremely lucrative and Canada suddenly became the second largest reserve holding nation in the world after Saudi Arabia. Alberta exported some 1.35 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2006; marketable oil sands production currently represents 42% of Canada's total crude oil output.
These projections are, unfortunately, at odds with the country’s GHG emissions reduction goals. According to scientists at the University of Victoria and lead author of three IPCC assessments, Andrew Weaver, Harper’s plan is focused on mission intensity reductions - restrictions linked to every unit of production - rather than cutting overall emissions. This policy benefits the oil sands industry because, while emissions for each unit of production must be cut, total production can still increase. Weaver stresses that, from the information provided in the federal plan, the oil sands sector will be required to reduce its emissions intensity by 25 percent by 2020. However, oil sands production is also expected to quadruple by 2020, due to increasing demand for oil. Between 1990 and 2005, Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, due to expansions in oil sands production according to the Pembina Institute.
If the government continues to drag its heels on climate change, Africa will surely suffer even more. The G8 meeting in 2010 will be critical for greenhouse gas governance. Harper’s closing remarks at the G8 summit in Italy were that Canada wants accountability near the top on the agenda. But is Canada really accountable? If so, should it be held accountable to Africa’s most vulnerable communities, least responsible and least equipped in dealing with the unpredictability of climate change?
Hany Besadais a Senior Researcher and Program Leader, at The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada. Katie Schwenger is a Student Research Assistant and Jennifer Beckerman is a Research and Administrative Assistant, CIGI.